MorettoAlessandro Bonvicino, called Il Moretto (the ‘Little Moor’), was born in Brescia, then under Venetian rule, in about 1498. (A tax return of 1548 gives his age as ‘about 50’.) His family had moved to Brescia from Ardesio, a village in the Seriana Valley, northeast of Bergamo. His father Pietro and uncle Alessandro were both minor artists. Ridolfi claims that he was a pupil of Titian, but this may merely reflect the strong influence of Titian evident in his work. He is first recorded as a painter in 1516, when he collaborated with the local painter Floriano Ferramola in painting the organ shutters of the Duomo Vecchio at Brescia (now in the church of Santa Maria in Valvendra at Lovere). He worked very largely in his native city and its neighbourhood, but occasionally undertook commissions elsewhere (Bergamo, Milan and Verona). Many of his paintings were commissioned by confraternities in Brescia, and he was himself a member of the Scuola del Santissimo Sacramento in the cathedral. He died on 22 December 1554 and was buried in his parish church of San Clemente, where his grave is marked by a modern bust.
Early writers, such as Vasari and Ridolfi, emphasize Moretto’s Raphaelesque classicism. His facial and figure types often seem Venetian. But, in contrast to the broad handling and rich colouring of Venetian painting, Moretto’s pictures are carefully modelled in dry impasto, give close attention to detail, and are often silvery grey in tone. His late works, influenced by the ideals of the Counter-Reformation, anticipate Caravaggio in their religious realism and harsh light effects. His portraits, though comparatively rare, are outstanding. The full-length Portrait of a Gentlemen leaning beside a column (London National Gallery), dated 1526, seems to have set a precedent for Titian’s full-length aristocratic portraits.
Moretto’s huge output, and an unevenness in quality and tendency towards repetition in his later works, are evidence of an active studio. Many of his works remain in Brescia, either in the churches for which they were made or in the Pinacoteca Tosio-Martinengo, but he is also especially well represented in the London National Gallery, which possesses two of his most famous portraits. Giovan Battista Moroni (c.1520/4-78), Moretto’s pupil and his assistant during the 1540s, produced religious paintings modelled on his master’s, but is known chiefly as a portrait specialist.
Abano Terme (11 km from Venice). Museo Civico (Villa Rathgeb).
Portrait of Federico Martinengo (?). Canvas, 105 x 90.
A heavily-bearded, middle-aged man, wearing a dark coat trimmed with fur, is seated at a table, on which he rests his elbow, while holding a folded letter in his hand. There is an indistinct inscription on the letter on the table; according to Gombosi (1943), it gives the name of the sitter (‘Conte Fe. Martinengo’), Moretto’s signature, and the date 1546. Previously in collections in Hungary and Austria, the portrait was bequeathed to the town of Abano Terme in 1972 by the local historian and collector Roberto Bassi Rathgeb.
Atlanta. High Museum of Art.
Madonna and Child with SS. James the Great and Jerome. Wood, 149 x 138.
The attribution of this panel has swung between the young Moretto and his older Brescian contemporary Girolamo Romanino. It is recorded as a Moretto in the great collection of Conte Teodoro Lechi of Brescia, who sold it in 1845 for 1,860 Milanese lire to an Englishman called Owen. Catalogued as a work of Romanino by Tancred Borenius in 1913, when it was in the Cook collection at Richmond. Reattributed to Moretto by Wilhelm Suida in his 1950 catalogue of the Kress collection, but returned by the same critic to Romanino in his 1958 catalogue of the Kress pictures at Atlanta. Accepted in Begni Redona’s 1988 monograph as one of Moretto’s earliest surviving works (about 1517?).
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
*Christ with the Cross and a Donor. Wood, 78 x 62.
The unidentified donor, portrayed in profile in flowing black robes, kneels in devotion before a vision of Christ carrying the cross. A book has fallen from his hands and his cap lies on the ground. The inscription on the column base is taken from St Paul's first letter to Timothy ('For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus'). The inscription once included the date 1518 (apparently removed by cleaning). The Titianesque pastural landscape is painted with great precision and includes such details as a shepherd carrying a lamb on his shoulders (left) and a flock of sheep grazing (centre right). Bequeathed by Conte Guglielmo Lochis in 1859. Ascribed to Titian until 1886, when Giovanni Morelli recognised it as an early work of Moretto.
Christ and the Samaritan Woman. Canvas, 39 x 31.
The woman at the well recognises Christ as the Messiah (John, 4: 19-26). The landscape setting, with the well located outside a small fortified hilltown, seems to have been inspired by a Dürer engraving. This tiny devotional picture is an early work, probably of 1515-20. From the collection of the art historian Giovanni Morelli.
There is another version at the gallery – almost identical but on panel (35 x 28). It is probably a workshop replica or old copy. There is also a version (optimistically attributed to Moretto) at the Seminario Patriarcale, Venice.
Holy Family with the Infant St John and a Donor. Canvas, 82 x 94.
The Christ Child takes a reed cross from the infant Baptist, symbolising acceptance of his tragic destiny. A late work (about 1550?). Once in the Casa Averoldi at Brescia, it was bequeathed to the gallery with the Lochis collection.
Bergamo. Sant’Alessandro in Colonna (sacristy).
Virgin adoring the Child. Canvas, 129 x 92.
This picture was first noticed only in 1931, when it was included in a survey (by Angelo Pinetti) of works of art in the city. It may date from the early 1520s. The lustrous, greyish silvery colour can be better appreciated since restoration in 2011.
Madonna and Saints. Canvas, 224 x 174.
The Virgin is seated on a high pedestal. The Child, astride her lap, twists to gaze down at St Andrew, the church’s titular saint, who holds a huge wooden cross. The three other saints are local early Christian martyrs – Eusebia, her uncle Domno and his nephew Domneone – whose remains were discovered under the church's high altar at the beginning of the fifteenth century. At the foot of the pedestal is a bowl of pears. This fine altarpiece was commissioned by a group of Bergamasque patricians in June 1536 and paid for on 24 November 1537. The agreed fee was 50 gold scudi (later reduced to 40 scudi). The picture originally hung over the high altar; it is now in a side chapel on the right. Restored in 1987-88. (The church is often closed.)
Adoration of the Shepherds. Canvas, 402 x 273.
The Virgin, looking at the Child lying in a wicker basket, throws up her hands in wonder, as if she had just realised his true nature. St Joseph, clutching a turban-like hat, is lost in thought. A shepherd, holding his crook, kneels in adoration, and another shepherd approaches, respectfully raising his hat. Other shepherds – one carrying a lamb on his shoulders and another with bagpipes – are arriving from behind the ruined building. Above, on the dilapidated thatched roof, boy angels hold a scroll with the words of the Gloria (Luke 2: 14). The huge picture (signed, lower left) was painted for the high altar of the church of the Frati Umiliati, Santa Maria della Ghiara, at Verona. It was commissioned by Mario Averoldi, a relative of Bartolomeo Averoldi, Abbot of the Umiliati friars. Moretto also painted another altarpiece for the church – the Glorification of Mary and Elizabeth (dated 1541), which was destroyed in Berlin in 1945. The Adoration of the Shepherds also presumably dates from the 1540s. It was acquired (through Gustav Waagen) in 1841 from the collection of Teodoro Lechi in Brescia for 20,000 Milanese lire. From 1885 to 1966 it was on loan to the gallery at Kassel.
Bordeaux. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
Madonna and Child with St Anthony Abbot. Canvas, 48 x 64.
The white-bearded Anthony Abbot, leaning on his Tau-shaped staff, gazes into the face of the Christ Child, lying across the Virgin's knees. The Child holds a pear in his left hand. This little devotional picture was left to the museum in 1861 with the collection of the wealthy wine merchant Lodi-Martin Duffour-Dubergier. It was catalogued until 1933 as a work of Fra Bartolommeo. The attribution to Moretto was published in Berenson’s 1932 Lists. Another version – almost identical but on panel – in the Liechtenstein Museum at Vienna may be the original and the Bordeaux painting a studio replica.
Brescia. Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo.
*Madonna with St Nicholas and Children ('Pala Rovelli'). Canvas, 245 x 192.
The general composition, with the Madonna seated on a high throne to the right, reflects Titian’s Pesaro Madonna in the Frari, Venice. The inscription on the cartouche states that it was painted in 1539 for Galaezzo Rovelli, who was a schoolteacher ('maestro di grammatica') from Rovato (a small town some ten miles from Brescia). The children being introduced to the Virgin and Child by St Nicholas – who is possibly endowed with Roveli's features – are Rovelli's pupils. One pupil holds the saint's mitre, another holds his three golden balls, while the youngest cradles a book. The picture originally stood in the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli at Brescia, and was moved to the gallery in 1891. A highly finished drawing for the altarpiece, painstakingly executed in brown ink, black chalk and wash on blue paper, is preserved in the Morgan Library, New York. Giovanni Battista Moroni adapted the composition for his beautiful altarpiece of the Mystic Marriage of St Catherine in the parish church at Almenno San Bartolomeo.
*Ecce Homo and an Angel. Canvas, 209 x 125.
Christ, stripped and beaten, hands bound, crowned with thorns and holding his cane sceptre, sits slumped against the wall of a stairway. His white robe is held up by a grief-stricken angel, and his cross lies across the stairs in the foreground. Though difficult to see in reproductions, Christ's ashen skin is covered in cuts and his robe and loincloth are stained with blood. This unusual picture – a late masterpiece of Moretto and perhaps his best known late work – seems to have been inspired by a description in a devotional book L’Arte dell’Unione by Giovanni da Fano, which was published in Brescia in 1536, of a meeting in a palazzo between the bound Christ, ‘spat upon, beaten and crowned with thorns’, and an angel, who expresses ‘anguish and sorrow’. The picture, which is thought to date from 1550-54, was commissioned by the Confraternity of the Holy Cross for their chapel in the Cathedral at Brescia. It was doubtless intended to inspire the brothers in acts of penitential piety.
*Supper at Emmaus. Canvas, 147 x 305.
The subject is from Luke: 24, 30-31. Christ, wearing a pilgrim’s hat and scallop shell on his shoulder, is shown at the moment of blessing the bread and revealing his identity. Cleophas sits on one side of the table and the unnamed stranger on the other. Under the table is a cat. The young man on the left, viewing the scene from a staircase, is traditionally said to be a self-portrait. The picture probably dates from about 1526. It is recorded in the seventeenth century in the church of San Luca at Brescia, and was transferred to the gallery in 1882 from the Ospedale Maggiore. It was the realistic detail, rough figure types and everyday settings of paintings such as this that led Roberto Longhi (1929) to see Moretto as a precursor of Caravaggio.
Virgin in Glory and Saints. Canvas, 331 x 217.
The Virgin and Child appear with the infant St John on a cloud beneath the dome of a small square structure with open arches. They are worshipped by four saints: Benedict, the female martyrs Giustina and Euphemia, and Paterius (a sixth-century Bishop of Brescia). The picture was painted for the high altar of the church of Sant’Afra (which was attached to the Benedictine monastery of Sant'Eufemia). It is a work of Moretto's early maturity (probably late 1520s). Transferred to the gallery in 1867.
St Anthony of Padua Enthroned. Canvas, 315 x 205.
The Franciscan saint is seated on a high pedestal with his usual symbols – the lily and book. St Anthony Abbot (with tau-shaped staff and bell) and St Nicholas of Tolentino (identified by the gold star on his black Dominican habit) stand beneath the throne. The altarpiece, probably of about 1530, comes from the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie at Brescia, where it has been replaced by a nineteenth-century copy by Bartolo Scherimi. Praised by Ridolfi as the best of Moretto’s works.
Nativity. Canvas, 412 x 276.
The Virgin hands the Child to a nurse. Three angels in the air hold the inscription Deus Homo Factus Est (‘God is Made Man’). St Joseph kneels on the left, St Jerome on the right with a Hieronymite monk as donor. Shepherds in the distance. In the foreground, a basket over-flows with linen and blankets. This magnificent picture is from the high altar of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Adolfo Venturi thought it a youthful work, but more recent critics consider it late (about 1550).
Adoration of Shepherds. Canvas, 260 x 152.
The seated Virgin is adored by St Joseph and two shepherds. This picture is recorded in 1826 hanging over a door of the Sala della Congregazione of the Palazzo della Loggia, and was transferred to the gallery in 1863. It probably dates from the 1530s. Painted in tempera and much faded.
Madonna, Saints and Donor. Canvas, 290 x 174.
St Francis and St Michael present the donor, Giulio Luzzago, to the Virgin. The date 1542, formerly in one corner, is no longer visible. From the church of San Giuseppe at Brescia. Brought to the gallery in 1868 after the suppression of the Minori Osservanti.
Descent of the Holy Spirit. Canvas, 245 x 165.
Also from the church of San Giuseppe. The composition of the picture, which probably dates from the early or mid-1540s, derives to some extent from Titian’s altarpiece in the Salute. Transferred to the gallery in 1868. It preserves its original frame (traditionally ascribed to the Brescian woodcarver Stefano Lamberti or his workshop).
Christ carrying the Cross. Fresco (transferred to canvas), 293 x 462.
This huge detached semi-circular fresco occupied a lunette to the right of the portal of the church of San Giuseppe. Old guidebooks ascribed it to Stefano Rizzi, the master of Romanino.
Exaltation of the Reliquary of the Holy Cross. Canvas, 224 x 152.
St Faustino and St Giovita hold up the reliquary. The worshippers below include some identifiable portraits. One side of a gonfalone (processional banner); the other side is lost. Painted for the Confraternità delle Sante Croci to commemorate the relics of the True Cross housed in Brescia Cathedral. An early work: Mattia Ugoni, Bishop of Famagusta, approached the Council of Brescia for money for the gonfalone in March 1520. The cartellino (said by Ridolfi to contain Moretto’s signature) is now blank; the documents do not disclose the name of the artist; and the picture was once disputed between Moretto and Romanino (Longhi even proposed Titian’s name at one time).
Annunciation. Wood, 42 x 58.
This graceful, well-preserved picture probably dates from the 1530s. The design of the half-length Virgin clearly seems to have been taken from the figure in Titian’s Averoldi Polyptych of 1522 in the Brescian church of SS. Nazaro e Celso. From the collection of Conte Paolo Tosio.
*Portrait of a Man. Canvas, 115 x 101.
This splendid portrait of a gentleman with a black forked beard, wearing a black cap with a feather and a black gown over a salmon-pink doublet, probably dates from the late 1530s or early 1540s. It was bequeathed by the Brescian painter Alessandro Sala in 1854.
*Lady as Salome (Tullia d'Aragona?). Canvas, 56 x 38.
The Latin inscription on the parapet (Quae Sacrum Joanis Caput Saltando Obtinuit) leaves no doubt that the subject is Salome, although the head of the Baptist on a platter, Salome's usual attribute, is lacking. In 1823, the picture was reproduced (by the female engraver Caterina Piotti Pirola) with the title 'Tullia d'Aragona'. Tullia d'Aragona (c.1505/10-56) was a courtesan and poet, who was born in Rome but also lived in Bologna, Venice, Ferrara and Florence. If the Salome were a portrait of Tullia, the golden sceptre could refer to her alleged royal blood (she claimed descent from Ferdinand I of Naples) and the laurel background to her poetic accomplishments. Acquired by Conte Paolo Tosio in 1829 from Teodoro Lechi and bequeathed to the gallery in 1846.
Moses and the Burning Bush. Fresco (transferred to canvas), 340 x 235.
In the Bible, God appears in the burning bush to tell Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3: 1-10). The bush that burned but was not consumed by the flames was believed to prefigure the virgin birth of Christ; and in the fresco it is the Virgin Mary, rather than God, that appears to Moses. The large fresco was the central part of a ceiling decoration in Bishop Mattia Ugoni’s family palazzo (later incorporated into the Palazzo Martinengo-Cesaresco in Piazza del Foro). Mattia Ugoni, a Brescian nobleman and Bishop of Famagusta in Cyprus, spent most of the life away from his native city, but he returned in 1519 and was an important patron to Moretto during the 1520s. The ceiling decoration is not documented, but has been dated around the mid-1520s on grounds of style. The fresco was detached from the ceiling and transferred to canvas in 1861. Ten small fragments were salvaged at the same time from the spandrels of the room. They represent ten anonymous prophets displaying scrolls inscribed with (unintelligible) Arabic and Hebrew writing. They remained in private hands and were acquired by the pinacoteca only in 1989.
Brescia. Bishop’s Palace. Chapel.
Altarpiece (Madonna in Glory with St John the Evangelist and Beato Lorenzo Giustiniani). Canvas, 272 x 193.
Beneath the Virgin and Child in glory, the Beato Lorenzo Giustiniani sits between St John the Evangelist (unusually shown old and beardless) and an allegorical female figure representing Divine Wisdom. According to his autobiography, Giustiniani had a vision of the beautiful figure of Divine Wisdom, who chided him for failing to pursue his religious studies. He is shown writing verses from the Wisdom of Solomon (Chapter 7). The picture was originally in the church of San Pietro in Oliveto in Brescia, where it hung in a chapel (first on the right) dedicated to the Beato Lorenzo Giustiniani. It was transferred to the Bishop’s Palace towards the end of the nineteenth century. It is a late work (about 1545-50), described somewhat harshly by Crowe and Cavalcaselle as ‘a weak production of Moretto’s shop’. Moretto painted two other works for San Pietro in Oliveto: the high altarpiece (now in the Centro Pastorale Paolo VI at Brescia) and the organ shutters (now in the Seminario Diocesano).
Brescia. Duomo Vecchio.
High Altar. Assumption of the Virgin. Canvas, 472 x 310.
Ordered for the high altar in 1524 and finished by November 1526 (when payment was made). The prestigious commission is evidence that Moretto, though only in his mid-twenties, was already the leading painter in his native city. Moretto must have been aware of Titian’s famous Assunta, completed in 1518 for the Frari in Venice, but the figures more closely resemble Savoldo’s in their expressive faces and poses. Moretto's pupil Giovan Battista Moroni painted a near-replica of the Assumption in 1570 for the convent of San Benedetto at Bergamo (now at the Brera).
In the Cappella del Sacramento, to the right, there are several canvases by Moretto. The Angel Bringing Food to Elijah in the Desert (214 x 247) is a night scene with an expansive landscape. As in Moretto's better known and very different version of this subject in San Giovanni Evangelista, the flatbread and glass amphora brought by the angel to the Old Testament prophet, who has fallen asleep under a juniper tree, resemble Communion bread and a cruet. In the left distance, two travellers have halted on a bridge; one urinates into the water, while a third man fishes downstream. The Feast of the Pascal Lamb (also 214 x 247) shows an unceremonious gathering of men, women and children, eating hastily as scripture prescribed. The elderly man seated on a stool in the foreground, accepting the food offered to him by a little girl with a basket, could be Moses. There are another two canvases by Moretto – representing the Evangelists Saint Luke and Saint Mark (each 210 x 90) – flanking the fifteenth-century fresco fragment that serves as an altarpiece. The pictures were commissioned by the Scuola del Santissimo Sacramento, a confraternity attached to the cathedral, and all date from 1531-34. Moretto was himself an active member of the confraternity. The decoration of the chapel was taken up again in the 1550s, and finished after Moretto’s death. The picture of Abraham and Melchizedek (200 x 238), formerly also in the Cappella del Sacramento but now hanging over a door in the left transept, was painted in 1553-54. There is another version of this unusual subject in the church of San Clemente.
In the Duomo Nuovo (1st altar on the right, above the crucifix) is a large lunette of the Sacrifice of Isaac (247 x 479), which also came from the Cappella del Sacramento of the Old Cathedral.
Brescia. San Clemente.
High Altar. Madonna in Glory and Saints. Canvas, 420 x 275.
The Virgin and Child appear in a church apse, which is open to the sky. Putti climb on the bower of leaves and fruit behind them. St Clement, first Pope of that name and third successor of St Peter, stands in the centre below. He is shown with an anchor (having been supposedly thrown into the Black Sea). The other saints are Dominic (in black habit with book), Florian (in lavish armour with banner and palm), Catherine (with crown and palm) and Mary Magdalene (with jar of ointment). The altarpiece is a late work. According to an eighteenth-century source, it was painted in 1548.
1st altar, left. St Ursula and the Virgins. Canvas, 245 x 167.
The legendary British martyr princess holds two red-cross banners and is surrounded by a group of her 11,000 virgin companions. The dove of the Holy Spirit hovers overhead. The composition seems to have been based on a much earlier painting of the same subject by Antonio Vivarini (now in the Museo Diocesano at Brescia). Comparatively late (1540s). The altarpiece may have been painted in support of the fledgling Company of St Ursula, founded in Brescia in 1535 by Angela Merici. There is another version of the picture in the Castello Sforzesco at Milan.
2nd chapel, right. Five Virgin Saints. Canvas, 259 x 176.
St Cecilia (holding a portable organ) between St Lucy (holding both a platter with her own eyes and the pointed tool with which she gouged them out) and St Barbara (leaning on a model of her tower), with St Agatha (holding her severed breasts) and St Agnes (with a lamb) standing behind. The five virgin martyrs are set in front of a shadowy archway, within which the dove of the Holy Spirit appears in a burst of heavenly light. This unusual altarpiece, perhaps dating from the early 1540s, may also be associated with the newly formed Company of St Ursula – the virgin martyrs depicted being exemplars for the young women of the Company who had pledged themselves to lives of devotion and chastity. Moretto's own daughter became a member of the Company.
2rd altar, left. Marriage of St Catherine with other Saints. Canvas, 308 x 194.
St Paul and St Jerome gaze upwards at a vision of the VIrgin and Child enthroned on a high marble pedestal. Catherine of Alexandria kneels on one side of the Virgin to receive the ring from the Child. Catherine of Siena, dressed in the habit of a Dominican nun, kneels on the other side offering a lily. The foreground steps are littered with the saints' books; Jerome's stone rests by his left foot and his lion reclines at the right edge. The picture is thought, on grounds of style and circumstantial evidence, to date from about 1543.
3th altar, left. The Offering of Melchizedek. Canvas, 225 x 180.
Melchizedek, King of Salem, hands to Abraham his offering of bread and a flask of wine (Genesis: 14, 17-19); in the sky, the risen Christ lying on his cross. A very late work (1550-54), which was commissioned for the church by the community of the Padri Domenicani.
The altarpieces in San Clemente were restored and fitted with new neo-classical frames in 1842, when the cenotaph to Moretto was erected in the church.
Brescia. San Francesco.
*St Margaret Altarpiece. Wood, 250 x 204.
The robustly beautiful St Margaret, with her double cross and her foot on the monster, stands in a semi-circular niche (or exedra). Two young boys (or wingless angels) balance on the cornice running along the side pilasters; they bear swords and suspend a garland of leaves and fruit over St Margaret's head. St Jerome (reading his Vulgate Bible) and St Francis (wearing the grey habit of the Order he founded) stand at the sides. The date 1530 is inscribed, in foreshortened Roman numerals, on the pavement in the foreground. Originally the altarpiece of the fifth chapel on the left, dedicated to St Margaret of Antioch; now over the first altar on the right.
Brescia. San Giovanni Evangelista.
Behind the high altar. Madonna and Saints. Canvas, 313 x 209.
As with Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, the scene is viewed through illusionistic painted curtains. The Madonna and Child appear in glory to St John the Evangelist (holding an open book inscribed with the opening words of his Gospel), St Augustine, St Agnes (with her lamb) and John the Baptist. In the bottom corners are donor portraits of two Augustinian friars (probably the brothers Innocenzo and Giovanni Casari). Painted, probably in the 1530s, for its present position over the high altar. In the lunette of the elaborate gilded frame is the Eternal Father with the Dove of the Holy Spirit (125 x 214) and in the pedestal King David (60 x 154); these two canvases could be rather earlier (about 1520). Restored in 2008.
3rd altar, right. Massacre of the Innocents. Canvas, 222 x 137.
The infant Christ, bearing the cross, appears in a mandorla above the scene, which is set in the Piazza del Loggia, Brescia's main square. King Herod is shown seated inside the Loggetta as a spectator. The picture is one of Moretto's most Raphaelesque works. (In his guide to Brescian paintings, Il Giardino della Pittura (1675), Francesco Paglia claimed that many people had wrongly supposed it to have been painted by Raphael.) It was commissioned as an altarpiece for its present location by Giovanni and Innocenzo Casari – respectively, the general and provost of the church's Augustinian canons – in memory of their young nephew, Giovanni Innocenzo, who died in 1530 at the age of seventeen. The altar was consecrated on the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents, 28 December, 1532. The inscription on the tablet above the infant Christ reads: 'The innocent and the upright have adhered to me' (Psalms 24: 21). The placing of the scene of carnage in the heart of contemporary Brescia may allude to the sack of the city in 1512, when Gaston de Foix's French army slaughtered thousands. The atrocities were witnessed at first hand by one of the picture's patrons, Innocenzo Casari, who described them at length in a letter.
Left transept. Cappella del Sacramento.
On 21 March 1521, the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament commissioned Moretto and Romanino to paint a staggering twenty-two canvases for the side walls of the chapel. The work was to be shared equally between the two painters and was to be completed within three years (ie. by March 1524). Unusually, the cycle was to be painted on canvas rather than in fresco. The carefully conceived programme has a Eucharistic theme. Moretto was responsible for the eleven paintings on the right wall. It has been argued (initially by Alessandro Ballarin on the occasion of the major Moretto exhibition held at Brescia in 1988) that only the canvases in the upper register – the Last Supper and the six Prophets – were executed in the early 1520s. The canvases in the lower register – the Old Testament scenes of Elijah and the Angel and the Gathering of Manna and the two Evangelists – have been dated some twenty years later (around 1543-45). No documentation survives to substantiate this dating, which is based on the perceived influence of Central Italian Mannnerism (or 'Michelangelism') on the Old Testament scenes – an influence attributed to the presence of Francesco Salviati and Giorgio Vasari in Venice in the early 1540s.
*Elijah and the Angel. Canvas, 211 x 243.
The Old Testament prophet, who had fled into the wilderness to escape the vengeance of Queen Jezebel, fell asleep under a juniper tree and was woken by an angel, who brought him freshly baked bread and a jug of water (I Kings 19: 5-9). The flatbread and glass amphora in Moretto's picture resemble Communion bread and a cruet. The muscular Elijah's pose is like that of the reclining Venus in the Venus and Cupid painted by Pontormo and Vasari, among others, from Michelangelo's cartoon. The angel, a golden haired youth wearing a leather cuirass and red skirt, wakes the sleeping prophet by placing a hand on his head. The vast, detailed and 'highly poetical' landscape, praised by Bernard Berenson in his North Italian Painters (1907), appears to have been influenced by Netherlandish prints.
Gathering of Manna. Canvas, 211 x 248.
The starving Israelite men, women and children are hard at work gathering in baskets, platters, jugs, aprons and even (centre foreground) a tambourine the small pellets of bread (manna) that fell miraculously from heaven. In the background, a man climbs a tree to release the manna caught in the branches. Moses (praying) and Aaron (with his rod) are shown on the hillock in the left distance. Several figures in the crowded composition derive from works by Raphael. (The woman at the left edge carrying a vase on her head is borrowed from the Stanze Fire in the Borgo, the pose of the buffoon in the bottom right corner derives from a river god in Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving of the Judgement of Paris, and the figures of Moses and Aaron are taken from the Gathering of Manna designed by Raphael for the Vatican Logge and engraved by Agostino Veneziano.) The subject (Exodus 16: 4-33) provides another Old Testament parallel to the institution of the Eucharist.
Last Supper. Canvas, 271 x 564.
The large lunette is situated above the two Old Testament scenes. The composition, with the apostles arranged in groups of three, is loosely related to that of Leonardo's famous Last Supper at Milan. The apostle seated at the right end of the table wears ecclesiastical garb and is possibly a portrait of the prior of the convent, Giovanni Francesco Ocanoni. Judas is seated on the near side of the table with his back to the viewer. On the floor to his left, a tabby cat (traditionally a symbol of wickedness) threatens a small white dog (a symbol of faithfulness).
Saint Mark; Saint Luke. Canvas, each 211 x 102.
The two Evangelists are shown, full-length, on the pilasters at the sides. St Mark, accompanied by his lion, consults another source (presumably the supposedly earlier Gospel of St Matthew) as he writes his Gospel. St Luke, accompanied by his bull, reads his Gospel.
Old Testament Prophets. Canvas, each 130 x 128.
Six half-lengths of Old Testament Prophets (David, Jeremiah, Daniel, Haggai, Micah and Hoseah) are on the underside of the arch. The prophecies on their scrolls are clearly legible.
Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 179 x 377.
This lunette is now situated above the altar of the chapel. Christ crowns the Virgin in the presence of God the Father, who is seated behind on a massive marble throne. St Augustine kneels on the left with his mother St Monica, and St Gregory the Great is on the right with his mother St Sylvia. In the background at either end are donors in the white habits of Augustinian canons. Signed ‘Alexander Brix.’ on the cartellino beneath Christ’s feet. This is a very early work, so similar to Romanino in style that Giovanni Morelli ascribed it to Romanino’s hypothetical ‘brother or cousin’ Alessandro. The lunette once belonged to an altarpiece on the fourth altar, right, dedicated to Santi Innocenti. It was transferred to the Cappella del Sacramento in 1881, when the chapel was renovated.
There are two pairs of huge tempera canvases on the presbytery walls. One pair of canvases (each 443 x 231) show scenes from the life of St John the Baptist: the Baptist Taking Leave of His Parents (the kneeling infant St John receiving the blessing of his father Zechariah, while his mother St Elizabeth weeps) and the Baptist Preaching (St John pointing towards Heaven as he addresses a gathering of men on the banks of the River Jordan). They formed the inner faces of the shutters of the church organ. The other pair of canvases (each 432 x 203) depict seated figures of St John the Evangelist (holding a tablet with the opening words of his Gospel) and St John the Baptist (pointing to the lamb). According to eighteenth-century guidebooks, they acted as covers for Moretto's high altarpiece; but they seem too large for this purpose, and it is now usually assumed that they formed the outer faces of the organ shutters.
Brescia. Santa Maria Calchera.
Christ in the House of Simon. Canvas, 230 x 140.
Mary Magdalene washes Christ’s feet; Simon, the Pharisee, is behind the table in the turban; a servant carries a plate of pears. A very late work (1550-54). The simple, almost rustic setting contrasts with Moretto's earlier sumptuous treatment of the subject in 1544 for the church of San Giorgio in Alga at Monselice (now Museo Diocesano, Venice).
Dead Christ adored by SS. Jerome and Dorothy. Canvas, 120 x 140.
This very worn tempera painting, ascribed either to Moretto or Ferramola in old guidebooks, now hangs over the left side door. Probably very early (about 1520).
Brescia. Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Virgin in Glory with SS. Sebastian, Martin and Roch. Canvas, 328 x 213.
The Virgin, seated on a cloud in the heavens, appears in glory to St Martin (sumptuously robed as Bishop of Tours) and the plague-saints Sebastian (bound to a tree and pierced with arrows) and Roch (dressed as a pilgrim and displaying the ulcer on his thigh). Over the seventh altar, right. Recorded in the church since the seventeenth century. Generally dated to the mid-1520s. Moretto painted two other altarpieces for the church: both are now in the Galleria Tosio Martinengo.
Brescia. SS. Nazaro e Celso.
*Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 289 x 198.
In the heavens, Christ crowns the Virgin. The dove of the Holy Spirit hovers behind them and boy angels emerge from the clouds. A curly haired Michael the Archangel (wearing a chaplet of flowers and a classical golden tunic rather than his usual armour) slays the Devil (represented with a dragon's head, human body and satyr's legs) with a spear. St Joseph (with his flowering rod) and St Francis (in his friar's habit) kneel in contemplation of the heavenly vision. St Nicholas of Bari (in bishop's robes and holding his three gold balls) stands on the right. The last three saints are repeated exactly in an altarpiece in the National Gallery, London. The Coronation is said to have been painted in 1534, but there seems to be no hard evidence to support this date. The great altarpiece originally included a lunette of God the Father (64 x 92), tondi of the Annunciation (27 in dia) and a predella of the Nativity (34 x 56) – all of which are still preserved elsewhere in the church.
Blood of the Redeemer. Canvas, 290 x 198.
The risen Christ appears in glory, standing on a crescent of cloud and surrounded by angels holding instruments of the Passion. Blood flows from his pierced side into a chalice held by an angel, who displays a tablet with the inscription: 'This is the blood of the new covenant' (Matthew, 26: 28). Moses and King Solomon stand below, leaning on stones inscribed with quotations from Exodus ('this is the bread the Lord has given to you') and the Song of Solomon ('eat, dear friends, and drink'). The altarpiece was ordered on 4 May 1541 by the Compagnia del Sacramento of the church. Compared with the greater brilliance of the Coronation, it gives the appearance of a rather routine work and may have been executed largely by assistants.
Brescia. Seminario Diocesano.
Flight and Fall of Simon Magus; SS. Peter and Paul.
These large canvases decorated the shutters of the organ in the church of San Pietro in Oliveto at Brescia. The Flight and Fall of Simon Magus (each 446 x 244) were on the inside; SS. Peter and Paul (446 x 399), kneeling and supporting the church, on the outside. The subjects probably carried a Counter-Reformation message: the magician Simon Magus, the first heretic of the Church, being seen as a figure of Luther. Art historians have generally dated the canvases around 1545-50, but this may be too late. Recently discovered documents suggest that the organ case was commissioned in 1531 and building work on the monastery was completed in 1535-36. When the choir of the church was demolished around 1680 by the austere Discalced Carmelites that had taken over the monastery, the organ shutters were detached and placed above the confessionals. The church was converted into a seminary in Napoleonic times (1805).
Brescia. Centro Pastorale Paolo VI.
Coronation of the Virgin with St Peter and St Paul. Canvas, 368 x 205.
The Virgin is crowned in heaven by the Trinity. An angel, hovering below, hands the keys to St Peter and a carved tablet to St Paul. The two beautiful females embracing represent Peace (holding an olive branch and trampling on armour) and Justice (with sword and scales). A late work (1545-50), commissioned by the Augustinian canons of San Giorgio in Alga for the high altar of San Pietro in Oliveto at Brescia. Moretto also painted an altarpiece for a side altar in the church (now in the Bishop's Palace at Brescia) and shutters for the church organ (now in the Museo Diocesano).
Brescia. Centro Mericiano (church of Sant'Angela Merici, formerly Sant'Afra).
Portrait of Angela Merici.
Angela Merici (1474-1540) was the founder of the Company of St Ursula (the Ursulines), a community of uncloistered religious sisters pledged to chastity and devoted to the education of poor girls. Although not canonised until 1807, she was widely regarded as a saint in her own lifetime.
Moretto appears to have painted two different posthumous portraits of her. The first portrait, showing her lying on her death bed, still covered her sarcophagus at the time of her beatification in 1768, but has since been lost. There is a later copy, attributed to Bartolomeo Cesi, in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo. The second portrait showed her in the habit of a Franciscan tertiary, and was probably painted when her corpse was publicly displayed for thirty days in an open coffin in the church of Sant'Afra. It was engraved for Carlo Doneda's Vita published in 1768, but is now also presumed lost. The grimly realistic painting in the Centro Mericiano seems to be a replica or copy of the second portrait. It was tentatively attributed to Moretto himself by Valerio Guazzoni (Moretto: Il Tema Sacro (1981)). There is another version in the sacristy of Desenzano Cathedral.
Brescia. Palazzo Salvadego (formerly Martinengo Padernello). Saletta delle Nobili Dame.
*Portraits of Ladies in Landscapes. Fresco decoration.
The Saletta delle Nobili Dame is a small vaulted salon adjacent to the garden. The walls are frescoed with portraits of ladies, richly dressed in the height of fashion, who stand behind fictive balustrades against landscape backdrops. The decoration was commissioned by Girolamo Martinengo on the occasion of his marriage in February 1543 to Eleonora Gonzaga of Sabionetta. The ladies portrayed have not been positively identified (a sixteenth-century visiter described them simply as 'six beautiful noblewoman of Brescia'), but they are likely to include Eleonora Gonzaga and some of her Gonzaga and Martinengo relatives. The palazzo, which was largely rebuilt in the eighteenth century, was partly destroyed by bombing in 1945, but Moretto's frescoes were saved. The building, now used by a private club, is not open to the public, but the frescoed room may sometimes be visited by appointment.
Budapest. Fine Arts Museum.
St Roch with an Angel. Canvas, 227 x 151.
The pilgrim saint slumbers on a stone seat at the base of a tree, while an angel tends the ulcer on his thigh. The picture was originally an altarpiece in the Servite church of Sant’Alessandro at Brescia (1st chapel to the right of the entrance), where it was described by Ridolfi (1648). It was probably removed in the late eighteenth century, when the church was remodelled, and entered the Avogadro (later Fenarola) collection at Brescia. Acquired by the Budapest Museum in 1895. Probably relatively late (after 1545).
Portrait of a Benedictine Monk (St Placid?). Canvas, 81 x 72.
He holds a book and martyr's palm in his left hand. The subject was previously interpreted as St Louis or St Benedict. Acquired in 1895 as a work of Moroni. The attribution to Moretto was made in 1903 by Gustavo Frizzoni.
Calvisano (25 km south of Brescia). SS. Silvestro e Michele Arcangelo.
Madonna in Glory with Three Saints. Canvas, 283 x 190.
St Bartholomew (holding the knife with which he was flayed) is enthroned in the centre; St Zeno (identified by the fish hanging from his crosier) stands on the left; and St Jerome (with his Vulgate Bible) is on the right. The Virgin, embracing the Child, is seated in glory amidst the clouds. The picture has been recorded in the church since the late seventeenth century. Late (after 1545). Over the 3rd altar on the right.
Castenedolo (13 km southeast of Brescia). San Bartolomeo Apostolo.
Christ in Glory with St Bartholomew and St Roch. Canvas, 254 x 175.
The two saints kneel before an altar on which a monstrance is displayed between lighted candles. Bartholomew is identified by the flaying knife on the step and St Roch by his pilgrim's garb and ulcerated thigh. They look up in wonder at an apparition of Christ in Glory. Christ, displaying the wounds in his hands, is surrounded by instruments of his Passion (crown of thorns, column, birchs, rope, spear and reed sceptre). The picture, unrecorded before the end of the nineteenth century, may have been painted for its present location in the church – the second altar on the right, which is dedicated to the Holy Sacrament. Probably comparatively late (mid-1540s). There is another version of the picture, similar in conception but with different saints, in the parish church at Marmentino. The two altarpieces seem to have been commissioned at the behest of Donato Savallo, a reforming prelate, archpriest of Brescia Cathedral, who had been sent to the region to stamp out Lutheran heresy.
Chicago. Art Institute.
Mary Magdalene. Canvas, 166 x 47.
The saint is identified by her long loose hair (used to wipe Christ's feet) and alabaster jar (containing the perfume used to anoint his feet). Often depicted as a penitent ascetic, she is represented here as a richly attired and beautiful young woman. Probably quite late (1540s). It appears to belong to the same series as three other vertical canvases – representing St John the Evangelist, King Solomon and the Samian Sibyl – now in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana at Milan. All four pictures are recorded in 1760 at the Palazzo Avogadro in Brescia. They passed by descent to the Fenaroli family, and were sold in 1882. After passing through the hands of several English and American collectors, the Mary Magdalene was acquired in 1917 by the Chicago lumber tycoon William O. Goodman, who donated it to the Art Institute in 1935.
Columbia. Museum of Art.
Madonna and Child with St Stephen and St Jerome. Wood, 45 x 60.
The youthful St Stephen, dressed as a deacon, holds a volume of scripture and martyr's palm, and has a rock on his shoulder. The white-bearded St Jerome holds a stone used to beat his breast in penitence and leans on the parapet with his Vulgate Bible. The design of the Virgin and Child is similar to that in Moretto’s altarpiece in the Hospital at Orzinuovi, near Brescia. This small sacra conversazione was once in the Piccoli collection in Venice. It was acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1927 – one of the first of some 900 works he purchased from the dealer Contini Bonacossi. Allocated to the Columbia museum in 1954.
Comero (Brescia). Santuario di Auro.
Saint Anthony Abbot Enthroned. Canvas, 197 x 148.
The patriarchal saint is dressed in robes of shimmering orange and gold. His emblems are the fire in his right hand, the small bell hanging from the crosier in his left hand, and the pig at his feet. The sanctuary was built to commemorate an apparition of the Virgin in 1527 and the picture is probably a few years later (early 1530s). It is over the altar on the right, near the presbytery.
Madonna. Canvas, 212 x 145.
Admired by Crowe and Cavalcaselle but dismissed by Morelli as a ‘wretched’ copy, this large canvas appears to be a workshop adaptation of Moretto’s Vision of the Virgin to Filippo Viotti in the sanctuary at Paitone. Acquired in 1868 from the collection of M. De Quandt at Dresden.
Nativity with Shepherds. Canvas, 138 x 183.
This large, damaged canvas was deposited with the Uffizi in 1989. It was one of many looted works of art recovered after the War by the Italian secret agent Rodolfo Siviero. Before the War, it was in the stock of the famous art dealer Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, who sold it to Hermann Goering in 1942. It was recently included, with an attribution to Moretto, in a selection of works from the Gallery's storerooms displayed at Florence, Madrid and Barcelona (2007-9) and several American cities (2011-13) in an exhibition called Il Pane degli Angeli or Offering of the Angels.
Madonna and Church Fathers. Canvas, 284 x 187.
The Virgin and Child are enthroned on a high pedestal under the arch of a classical portico. Seated at the foot of the throne, St Gregory (with papal tiara) and St Jerome (in a cardinal's scarlet robes and hat) consider a passage of scripture. St Ambrose (shown as Bishop of Milan and holding a book and scourge) stands on the left, gazing at the Virgin and Child, and St Augustine is on the right. An altarpiece from San Carlo al Corso, the church of the Lombards at Rome. It probably dates from around 1540-45. It came into the possession of Cardinal Fesch (with an attribution to Pordenone) in Napoleonic times, and was acquired by the museum when his vast collection was dispersed in 1845. There is a similar picture (by Moretto’s school or Moroni?) in Santa Maria Maggiore at Trent.
Madonna enthroned with St Anthony Abbot and St Sebastian. Canvas, 254 x 184.
Both saints were commonly invoked for protection from disease. Anthony Abbot is shown as a venerable monk, leaning on his Tau-shaped staff and holding his little bell. Sebastian, wearing a loincloth, is bound to a column and pierced with arrows. A Bellinesque child angel plays a lute at the base of the Virgin's throne. This altarpiece was acquired in 1835 through the art historian J. D. Passavant; it previously belonged to a certain Giovanni Domenicini, but its original location is unknown. Probably early.
Genoa. Palazzo Rosso.
Portrait of a Lecturer. Canvas, 84 x 75.
This imposing portrait of a bearded man, appearing to lecture with an open book before him, was attributed to Moretto by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, who interpreted the letters ‘A.B.’ in the inscription as his initials. The inscription also gives the date 1533. The attribution has been disputed: Giulio Campi was proposed by Berenson (1907), Lorenzo Lotto by Gombosi (1943). The flowers on the table and the ivy creeping up the wall suggest an interest in natural history, and the sitter has been tentatively identified as Pietro Andrea Mattioli, a botanist and physician. The philosopher Vincenzo Maggi is another candidate.
London. National Gallery.
Christ Blessing St John the Baptist. Canvas, 65 x 93.
The subject seems to be unique in Italian painting. It is possible that this small picture, thinly and rather loosely painted, was originally part of a predella illustrating the Life of the Baptist. But it is more likely to be a fragment cut from a larger composition. It has usually been dated very early (1515-20), though Nicholas Penny suggests 1520-23 in his 2004 gallery catalogue. Acquired at Brescia by the art historian Giovanni Morelli, who sold it on in 1866 to Sir Henry Layard, whose collection (once housed in his Venetian residence, the Palazzo Cappello, on the Grand Canal) entered the National Gallery in 1916 after his wife’s death.
*Portrait of a Gentleman (no. 1025). Canvas, 201 x 92.
The unidentified man, aristocratically dressed in a short black brocaded cape, doublet with slashed mauve sleeves and slashed bouffant breeches, leans with an abstracted and melancholy expression against a column with his elbow on the plinth, his left hand resting on the hilt of his rapier. His red beret of Brescian wool is adorned with an enamelled gold badge representing St Christopher. This splendid portrait, dated 1526 in large Roman numerals, has a significant place in the history of art. It is the earliest known Italian example of the aristocratic type of full-length portrait that Titian was to develop so successfully. It is also thought to be the first time that a column (a traditional symbol of fortitude) had featured in a secular portrait. (Titian was to use this device frequently in his later male portraits.) The picture came from the Avogadro-Fenarola family of Brescia, and has been thought to represent Gerolamo II Avogadro who died in 1534. However, the sitter seems to be described in a 1734 inventory as one of the Conforto family. One of four Brescian portraits (the other three are all by Moroni) bought by the National Gallery in 1876 for £5,000 from the Milanese dealer Giuseppe Baslini.
*Portrait of Conte Fortunato Martinengo Cesaresco? Canvas, 114 x 94.
The melancholy young man is luxuriously dressed in a gold-threaded grey tunic with quilted silk sleeves and a gown lined with lynx fur. His plumed hat has a badge with the Greek inscription: ‘Alas, I yearn so much’. His head-resting-on-hand pose may have been suggested by Dürer's famous 1514 engraving of Melancolia. His elbow rests on pink tasselled cushions, and the objects on the table include antique coins, a bronze lamp in the shape of a foot and a pair of leather gloves. The sitter was traditionally identified as Conte Sciarra Martinengo Cesaresco, who was exiled from Brescia after killing a man to avenge his father and died in France fighting the Huguenots. However, a seventeenth-century inventory describes the subject as ‘Co. Fortunato Martinengo’. Fortunato Martinengo Cesaresco (1512-52) married Livia, daughter of Count Nicolò d’Arco, at the age of thirty in 1542, and it has been suggested that the portrait commemorates their betrothal. This superb, well-preserved portrait was sold by Contessa Marzia Martinengo in 1843 to the Napoleonic general Conte Teodoro Lechi. After Lechi was exiled from Brescia in 1848, he sold it to a Charles Henfrey, a railway entrepreneur, from whom it was bought by the National Gallery in 1858 for £360. The handsome 'Sansovino' frame is not original but was fitted to the portrait in the early 1960s.
Madonna and Saints (no. 625). Canvas, 358 x 232.
In the sky: the Madonna between St Catherine (accepting a ring from the Christ Child) and St Clare (with a monstrance). On the ground: St Jerome (with his lion), St Joseph (with flowering staff), St Bernardino (holding up his monogram and with three mitres at his feet to represent the bishoprics he declined), St Francis (who reveals the stigmata in his hands), and St Nicholas of Bari (with three gold balls). The original location of this altarpiece is unknown: the presence of the three Franciscan saints suggests that it was a Franciscan church. Probably comparatively late (1540s). The designs of all five male saints recur in other altarpieces by Moretto (SS. Joseph, Francis and Nicholas in the Coronation of the Virgin in the Brescian church of SS. Nazzaro e Celso). Acquired by Lord Northwick in 1852 from a Dr Faccioli of Verona, and bought by the National Gallery at the Northwick sale in 1859 for 550 gns. At some unknown date, the canvas was cut in half, and there is extensive repainting along the horizontal join running just below the figures in the clouds.
St Joseph; St Jerome; Two Angels. Wood, each 154 x 54.
From a pair of double-sided shutters; the two saints were probably on the inside and the angels on the outside. St Joseph holds a flowering staff and St Jerome is dressed as a cardinal and studies his Vulgate Bible. The marble platform on which the angels stand bears a Latin inscription reading – when the shutters were closed – 'Hail Queen of Heaven'. The central panel of the triptych is likely to have shown the Virgin and Child enthroned. The panels were catalogued as works of Moroni in Cecil Gould’s gallery catalogues of 1959-75. They were returned to Moretto in Nicholas Penny’s 2004 catalogue, but with the qualification that they could be from his workshop. Damaged by blistering and flaking, the St Jerome being worst affected, restoration concealing extensive paint losses. The four panels were sold by Giovanni Morelli in 1867 and 1875 to John Samuel, a Jewish banker who had settled in London. Samuel’s nieces bequeathed them to the National Gallery in 1906.
Madonna with SS. Hippolytus and Catherine (no. 1165). Canvas, 232 x 141.
The unfamiliar saint Hippolyptus, identified by the cartellino by his right foot, was St Lawrence’s jailer, by whom he was converted. He was martyred by being dragged by wild horses. St Catherine rests her foot on her broken wheel and holds the sword with which she was beheaded. The Latin inscription on the stone refers to the saints' martyrdoms ('They chose to be dismembered rather than split apart in everlasting chains'). The pose of the Madonna and Child is derived from Mantegna’s engraving of the Virgin and Child with Five Saints. According to an inventory of pictures at the Palazzo Lechi in Brescia, this altarpiece came from the church of S. Eusebio at Flero, a village 5 km south of Brescia. It was probably commissioned by Conte Tomaso Caprioli, whose rebuilding of the church was completed in 1535. One of several pictures from the Palazzo Lechi sold in 1802 to the English speculator Richard Vickris Pryor. Bought at Christie’s in 1849 by the poet Francis Palgrave, compiler of the Golden Treasury, who presented it to the National Gallery in 1884. The picture was probably damaged by abrasive cleaning when it was in Palgrave’s possession; badly abraded and darkened by old varnish, it is consigned to the basement galleries.
Portrait of a Praying Man (no. 3095). Canvas, 104 x 89.
The man, with a long greying beard, appears to be kneeling, his hands clasped in prayer. A cloak lined with fox fur has fallen from his shoulder. Possibly a donor portrait cut out of an altarpiece. If an independent portrait, it could have been intended to be hung near a sacred object that the sitter would appear to be venerating. Probably late (1540s). Bought by Giovanni Morelli for Sir Henry Layard from Count Ettore Averoldi of Brescia in 1864. Another very damaged picture (the paint cracked, worn and discoloured by old varnish) consigned to the basement galleries.
Madonna with Two Saints (no. 3094). Wood, 45 x 63.
The saints are Nicholas of Tolentino (on the left with a star on his breast) and Anthony of Padua. Bought, with the Praying Man, by Morelli for Layard from Count Averoldi in 1864. Morelli described it as a work ‘of the most appealing period of the great master, that is 1530-40’. Later critics regarded it as an early work (Begni Redona dating it about 1520 in his 1988 monograph), but the attribution does not appear to have been questioned until Nicholas Penny’s 2004 gallery catalogue. Penny classes it simply as ‘North Italian’, with the comment that it is more likely to be Venetian than Brescian.
Los Angeles. County Museum of Art.
St John the Baptist in Prayer in the Wilderness. Wood, 57 x 50.
Possibly the ‘beautiful St John in the desert by Moretto’ recorded in a Brescian guidebook of 1826 in the possession of the architect Rodolfo Vantini. First certainly recorded in the collection of Oskar Bondy of Vienna (died 1944); given to the museum in 1951 by Philip Yordon of Beverly Hills. The panel appears to have been cut down, particularly at the top. Suggested datings have ranged from as early as ‘about 1520’ to the mid-1530s.
Lovere. Santa Maria in Valvendra.
St Faustino; St Giovita. Canvas, each 485 x 215.
These two life-size equestrian figures, with arched architectural surrounds, are Moretto’s earliest documented works. They originally decorated the inside of the shutters of the organ in the Old Cathedral at Brescia. The shutters were commissioned in August 1515 from Floriano Ferramola, who painted the Annunciation on the outside. Moretto received his first payments in November 1516, and the work was completed by August 1518. The canvases remained in situ only until 1539-40, when the organ was replaced and new shutters were painted by Romanino.
Erythraean Sibyl; Prophet Isaiah. Canvas, each, 163 x 56.
Nothing is known of the provenance of these two tall canvases, which could have formed the shutters of a small altarpiece or an organ. Catalogued as works of the Florentine School in 1857, but recognised as by Moretto in 1893, when they were included in an exhibition in Madrid. They may date from the early 1530s.
Maguzzano (Brescia). Santa Maria Assunta.
Assumption of the Virgin. Canvas, 450 x 272.
The Virgin, flanked by angels, ascends from her tomb, which is surrounded by awe-struck apostles. Christ, with a flowing purple cloak, awaits her in the heavens. This huge picture is thought to be one of Moretto’s last works, painted with studio assistance not long before his death in 1554. Originally in the church of the Benedictine abbey at Maguzzano, it passed into private hands when the monastery was closed in 1797. After it was nearly sold in 1861, it was deposited in the Palazzo del Comune and transferred thence to the Pinacoteca at Brescia in 1894. Returned to Maguzzano in 1953 and installed over the high altar of the parish church.
Manerbio (Brescia). Parish Church (San Lorenzo).
Madonna with Four Saints and Donor. Canvas, 348 x 232.
The picture, which hangs over the high altar, shows the Virgin and Child with the infant St John appearing in glory to St Peter (with keys and book), St Lawrence (a foot on his gridiron), St Paul (leaning on his sword) and St Catherine of Alexandria (with martyr's palm). The donor, kneeling in ecclesiastical robes at the right edge, has been tentatively identified as Ludovico or Silvio Luzzago. Probably a relatively early work of the mid-1520s.
Marmentino (35 km north of Brescia). Parish Church (Santi Cosma e Damiano).
Christ of the Eucharist with SS. Cosmas and Damian. Canvas, 261 x 160.
The risen Christ, holding the Cross and the Column of the Flagellation, appears in glory above a small altar. Two cherubs unveil the consecrated Host, which is contained in a monstrance draped with a transparent cloth. The Latin inscription on the altar front reads: 'Man ate the bread of angels'. Saints Cosmas and Damian kneel at the sides; medical instruments show they are doctors and palm branches show they are martyrs. This unusual altarpiece, formerly in the Chapel of Corpus Domini, now hangs over the high altar in a Baroque frame. It does not appear to have been referred to in print until 1875. It may date from around 1540. There is a variant of the altarpiece in the church at Castenedolo. The Castenedolo picture is similar in conception, but has different saints and is arguably rather superior in design and execution. The two altarpieces – apparently commissioned at the behest of the reforming prelate Donato Savallo – can be seen as instruments of Counter-Reformation propaganda, promoting Eucharistic devotion.
Four panels from a Polyptych.
The polyptych was in six parts. The Assumption of the Virgin (148 x 60) was in the centre of the upper tier between the panels of SS. Paul and Jerome and SS. Catherine and Clare (each 103 x 60). The Saint Francis of Assisi (114 x 60) was in the centre of the lower tier between panels of SS. Bonaventura and Anthony of Padua and SS. Bernardino and Louis of Toulouse, which are now in the Louvre. The altarpiece came from the little church of Santa Maria degli Angeli at Gardone Valtrompia (19 km north of Brescia). The damaged original frame is still in the church, while two panels of angels that formed volutes on the top are in a private collection in Brescia. The altarpiece, the only genuine polyptych by Moretto that is known, may date from around 1530. The figure of the Virgin in the Assumption paraphrases that in the high altarpiece painted by Moretto for Brescia Cathedral in 1524-26. The figure of Jerome is repeated (in reverse and possibly from the same cartoon) in a damaged panel in the National Gallery, London.
Madonna in Glory with Saints. Canvas, 255 x 185.
Also from the church, Santa Maria degli Angeli, of the Franciscan monastery at Gardone Valtrompia, the pictures from which were removed to the Brera in 1808 after the Napoleonic suppression of religious houses in 1803. The saints are Francis, Jerome and Anthony Abbot. Probably relatively late (it has been dated about 1543 on the strength of a drawing with the figures of Jerome and Anthony Abbot in the Pinacoteca at Brescia). The composition of the Madonna and Child in the clouds is repeated in an altarpiece by Moroni in the cathedral at Trent.
Madonna and Child with an Angel. Canvas, 49 x 57.
First recorded only in 1898 in the collection of the art historian and collector Gustavo Frizzoni of Milan. It was acquired for 500 lire by the Italian State in 1911, after it had nearly been exported to the United States. Late (1540s). A number of workshop replicas or variants are known.
Milan. Castello Sforzesco.
St John the Baptist; the Prophet Jeremiah. Wood, 153 x 62.
The Baptist's pointing gesture may have been directed at an image of Christ. Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem. The inscriptions on the scrolls are from John 1: 29 (''Behold the Lamb of God') and Jeremiah 11: 19 ('I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter'). The two panels are probably the ‘John the Baptist and another prophet’ recorded in 1760 in a guide to the church of Sant’Agata at Brescia. They were among the many pictures bequeathed in 1835 to the Ospedale Maggiore of Milan by the Milanese doctor Francesco Ciceri and transferred in 1903 to the Museo Civico. They may date from the mid-1530s.
St Ursula and the Virgins. Canvas, 219 x 143.
A replica, probably autograph, of the altarpiece in San Clemente at Brescia. From the Augustinian convent of Santa Maria Maddalena at Brescia. Another of the pictures left to the Ospedale Maggiore in 1835 and transferred to the museum in 1903.
Portrait of a Franciscan Monk as St Anthony. Canvas, 74 x 64.
This portrait, which may date from about 1530, is repeated almost exactly in the figure of St Anthony in the panel in the Louvre. First recorded in the Lechi collection at Brescia, it is yet another of the pictures left to the Ospedale Maggiore in 1835.
Death of St Peter Martyr. Canvas, 310 x 163.
Peter of Verona, a Dominican grand inquisitor, was murdered in 1252 by Cathar heretics on his way from Como to Milan. The dying martyr is said to have written the words 'Credo in Deum' in his own blood. To the left, Peter's companion, a friar called Domenico, is mortally wounded by another assailant. Woodcutters are not mentioned in the usual story of the martyrdom, but also appear in the backgrounds of the paintings of the subject by Giovanni Bellini and his workshop (London, National Gallery and Courtauld Institute). Moretto's brightly coloured altarpiece (signed) was painted, probably in the early 1530s, for the Cappella Grumeli of the church of Santi Stefano e Domenico at Bergamo. When the church was demolished in 1561, it was transferred to San Francesco at Bergamo, where it was seen by Ridolfi and remained until 1797. It was given to the Ambrosiana by Conte Giovanni Edoardo Pecis of Milan in 1814, after San Francesco had been destroyed during the Napoleonic suppressions. Documents reveal that the altarpiece originally had a predella. Caravaggio seems to have studied the picture, the fleeing disciple at the left edge of his Taking of Christ at Dublin bearing a marked similarity of pose to the young Dominican at the left edge of Moretto’s painting.
St John the Evangelist; KIng Solomon; the Samian Sibyl. Canvas, 181/178 x 46/51.
The original purpose and location of these three tall canvases is unknown. Formerly in the Avogadro and Fenaroli collections in Brescia, they were donated to the Ambrosiana in 1961 by the Lombard plywood manufacturer Attilio Brivio. The Mary Magdalene at Chicago also certainly belonged to the same series.
Milan. Museo Poldi-Pezzoli.
Holy Family and Infant St John. Canvas, 77 x 104.
The Christ Child, dressed in shimmering golden silk, takes two pears from the infant Baptist. The elderly turbaned Joseph doses with his elbow on the parapet. This exceptionally well preserved picture may date from the mid-1530s. Recorded in 1760 in the Avogadro collection of Brescia, which passed into the Fenarola collection early in the nineteenth century. Acquired at the end of the nineteenth century by Emilio Visconti Venosta, the Risorgimento statesman and man of letters, whose collection was donated to the Poldi-Pezzoli Museum by his daughter, Marquise Margherita Visconti Venosta in 1973. There are many early copies and derivations. (One deaccessioned by the Cleveland Museum of Art was formerly attributed to Moretto (eg. by Berenson in his 1968 Lists), but was sold at Sotheby's, New York, in January 2011 as the work of a follower.)
Milan. Santa Maria presso San Celso.
Conversion of St Paul. Canvas, 306 x 136.
The dramatic composition, with the fallen rider thrust into the foreground and threatened by the rearing horse, has been compared with Caravaggio's famous Conversion of St Paul in Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. The picture (signed bottom left) now hangs in the ambulatory of the dark church (9th chapel). A picture of this subject was noted in the Zecca (Mint) at Milan by Vasari, who praised the ‘beautiful adornments of draperies and vestments’. However, it is not certain that this is the same picture. Moretto was paid for work in the Cappella di San Paolo of the church in 1540-41 and the Conversion of St Paul probably dates from this time.
Munich. Alte Pinakothek.
*Portrait of an Ecclesiastic. Canvas, 102 x 78.
This portrait is aptly described by Berenson in his North Italian Painters as ‘one not easily outmatched: as character penetrating perceived and frankly presented, as design simplicity itself, and as colour a perfect harmony in dark, soft, twilight greys’. It probably dates from the 1540s. It was bought in Venice in 1838 from the estate of the Marchese Canova as a work of Moroni and reattributed to Moretto at the end of the nineteenth century.
Christ at the Column. Wood, 59 x 43.
This carefully finished small panel is a late work of the 1540s or early 1550s; penitential themes are common in Moretto’s pictures of this period. From the Farnese collection at Parma (the wax seal of Ranuccio Farnese is still preserved on the back), which was transferred to Naples in 1736.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
Christ in the Wilderness. Canvas, 46 x 52.
The unusual subject is from Mark's Gospel (1:13). After Christ was baptised by St John the Baptist, he was 'in the wilderness for forty days ... and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him'. Possibly a fragment from the background of a large altarpiece. It has been suggested that the Christ Blessing St John the Baptist in the National Gallery, London, is a fragment from the same picture, though the size of the figures is rather different. It has been dated as early as 1515-17. By 1860 it was in the Cereda-Bonomi collection in Milan; it was sold as a work of Moretto in 1896 and bought by the Metropolitan Museum in 1911 from the art historian Jean Paul Richter. The two angels in the sky on the right and the cherubim on the left were revealed by restoration in the 1980s.
*Portrait of a Man. Canvas, 87 x 81.
On the Turkish carpet covering the ledge is an hourglass symbolising the passing of time. The young man’s contemplative, slightly abstracted expression is typical of Moretto’s portraits. This is a comparatively early and exceptionally well-preserved example, probably dating from the early or mid-1520s and showing the influence of Titian. The low viewpoint suggests that it could have been made for a specific, rather high location. Formerly in the Erizzo-Maffei collection at Brescia (where it is first recorded in 1760 and later described by Crowe and Cavalcaselle) and the collection of the Marchese Fassati at Milan. It was exported from Italy in 1915 by the dealer Elia Volpe and acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1928 from Knoedler & Co. of New York.
*Entombment. Canvas, 240 x 189.
The dead Christ is seated awkwardly on the Virgin's knees. His arms are held by John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene, but he seems in danger of toppling forward onto the viewer. Joseph of Arimathea (holding the crown of thorns) and Nicodemus (with nails) stand behind. The foreshortened Latin inscription on the stone slab (bottom centre) is from Philippians ('He became obedient unto death'). This intensely emotional devotional picture is dated October 1554 (bottom left), and was therefore finished just weeks before Moretto’s death. It is usually identified with the ‘altarpiece of the dead Redeemer supported by the Blessed Virgin and lamented by St John the Evangelist, the Magdalen, Nicodemus and others’ recorded in 1760 in the upper oratory of the Disciplina di San Giovanni at Brescia, which was suppressed in 1771. By 1854 it was in the Frizzoni collection on Lake Como. In 1862 Sir Charles Eastlake considered buying the picture for the National Gallery in London, but he was put off by the indecorous placement of the Virgin's hand on Christ's bare stomach. (He even contemplated having the offending feature overpainted with white drapery.) The picture was sold, instead, to Consul Weber of Hamburg in 1885, and purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in 1912 from Weber's estate.
Critical opinion of the picture has been sharply divided. Adolfo Venturi (1929) called the figures 'leaden giants' from whom 'every beauty of art has withered', and Gombosi (1943) suspected that the picture had been left unfinished at Moretto's death and completed by a pupil. On the other hand, Bryson Burroughs (writing as a curator after the picture entered the museum in 1912) likened its 'balanced arrangement, its rhythmic lines, the gravity and nobility' to 'a composition by Bach or poem by Milton'. Previously very dark, the picture was thoroughy restored in 2016-18. Discoloured varnish and old retouchings were removed, and the canvas was relined and restretched. Stripped-state photographs show significant paint losses in the bottom left corner and along the original joins in the canvas.
Orzinuovi (29 km from Brescia). Chiesa dell’Ospedale.
Madonna with Four Saints and a Donor. Canvas, 177 x 166.
St Dominic (with white lily and open book) and St Joseph (with flowering staff) stand on the left of the throne. St Vincent Ferrer (with a flame on his head and white dove on his shoulder) and St Lucy (holding a skewer with her two eyeballs) stand on the right. The elderly donor, kneeling in profile to the right, might be Zaccaria Trevisan, Dean of Orzinuovi, who began the construction of the Dominican monastery for which the altarpiece was painted. A model of the church is shown in the bottom left corner. The picture is comparatively early (about 1525-30). It now hangs on the right wall of the chancel. Well preserved.
Oxford. Ashmolean Museum.
Virgin and Child with St Jerome. Wood, 50 x 59.
The penitent St Jerome beats his breast with a stone. The pears on the parapet symbolise Christ's love for mankind. This small devotional panel may date from the early 1530s. Comparison with copies suggests that it has been cut down slightly on the left. Unrecorded before 1945, when it was sold at Sotheby’s with the collection of Henry Manfield. Bequeathed by Francis Falconer Madan in 1962. There is another version, possibly from Moretto's workshop, at the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo.
Paitone (some 20 km east of Brescia). Pilgrimage Church.
*Virgin appearing to a Peasant Boy ('Madonna di Paitone'). Canvas, 226 x 177.
The picture commemorates a vision in August 1532 of the Madonna to a deaf-mute boy of Paitone, Filippo Viotti: ‘A peasant was gathering wild mulberries on the mountain, when the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in the guise of a grave matron, dressed in white, and charged him to go to the people and ask them to build a church in her honour on the summit of the hill, promising that if that were done the epidemic that was afflicting them would be ended’ (Ridolfi). Permission to build a shrine on the site of the apparition was granted on 11 May 1534 by Bishop Mattia Ugoni. Moretto's picture is presumed to have been painted around that time. It is undocumented, but was probably commissioned by Bishop Ugoni, who had some years earlier employed Moretto to decorate the ceiling of his palazzo in Brescia. The picture was removed to Rome during the First World War (1915-18), but has otherwise always remained in situ.
SS. Bernardino and Louis of Toulouse; SS. Bonaventure and Anthony of Padua. Wood, each 113 x 60.
All four saints are Franciscans. Bernardino of Siena displays his monogram with the Holy Name of Jesus, Louis of Toulouse wears a cope embroidered with the feurs-de-lis of France, Bonaventure wears a cardinal's hat and a bishop's robes over his friar's habit, and Anthony of Padua holds a lily and book. The two panels belonged to a polyptych from the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli at Gardone Valtrompia, near Brescia. They came to the Louvre in 1812 in an exchange of pictures with the Brera. The other four panels of the polyptych are still in Milan.
Paris. Louvre (on deposit from 1950 to 1999).
Visition. Wood, 75 x 95.
The two pregnant cousins – the young Virgin Mary and the elderly St Elizabeth – embrace. St Joseph stands behind his wife. The palm tree is a symbol of the Resurrection, while the garden enclosed in the classical building in the left background probably alludes to Mary's virginity. The picture was one of five paintings sold at auction in 1941 by the Jewish Italian collector Gentil di Giuseppe and acquired by the Berlin dealer Karl Haberstock. After the War, the paintings were discovered in the collection of Hermann Göring and transferred to the Louvre. They remained at the Louvre until 1999, when a Paris court ruled they be returned to Gentil di Giuseppe's heirs. The Visitation was subsequently sold at Christie's, New York, in January 2000 with an attribution to Moretto's studio. There is another version in a private collection at Rome. It is probably Moretto's original, while a third version at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm is probably an old copy.
Philadelphia. Museum of Art (J. G. Johnson Collection).
Madonna and Donors. Canvas, 120 x 159.
In left background, a romantic landscape with a castle. The two donors – the young man in profile on the left and the thirtyish woman in profile on the right – are said to be members of the Luzzago family. The picture may date from the late 1520s. It was in the Averoldi collection at Brescia in the nineteenth century (with an attribution to Romanino). Acquired by Johnson by 1905.
Portrait of a Lady with a Lapdog. Canvas, 86 x 69.
She is still in her early teens, wears a small round turban and a gold and yellow striped silk dress with banded sleeves, and holds a little brown and white dog in her arms. Perhaps a betrothal portrait. On the strength of an inscription on an old copy in a Swiss private collection, the sitter has been identified as Eleonora Averoldi, wife of Marchese Giovan Francesco Malaspina of Verona. Acquired by Johnson from an unknown source, the portrait was first attributed to Moretto by Berenson in his 1932 Lists.
Porzano di Leno (Brescia). San Martino.
Madonna and Child in Glory with SS. Martin and Catherine. Canvas, 215 x 143.
The Madonna and Child are represented in the sky on a crescent moon with the sun behind them – an allusion to the Woman of the Apocalypse (Revelation 12: 1), with whom the Virgin was generally identified. They appear to the kneeling St Martin, richly robed as Bishop of Tours, and St Catherine, who leans on a fragment of a huge spiked wheel. There are no old references to this altarpiece, which seems to have been first mentioned only in 1940 and was restored in the early 1970s. It may date from around 1530. Cut down at the sides and bottom in the mid-eighteenth century, when the church was rebuilt. The church, including Moretto's altarpiece, was restored in 2015-18.
Possagno (near Treviso). Tempio Canoviano.
‘Madonna della Misericordia’; Two Prophets. Canvas, each 142 x 200.
Two members of a flagellant confraternity kneel below the hovering Madonna. The two prophets, once called St Peter and St Paul, may represent Elisha and Elijah or Enoch and Elijah. Two sides of a gonfalone (processional banner). The Madonna is a near replica of the figure in the large picture of the Madonna del Carmelo, now in the Accademia at Venice, which also belonged to Antonio Canova at one time. The sculptor bought both the gonfalone and the large Madonna del Carmelo in about 1820 from the Ottoboni family at Rome (which had probably inherited them from Pope Alexander VIII, who was Bishop of Brescia from 1654 to 1664). They were both traditionally ascribed to Pordenone.
Pralboino (Brescia). Parish Church (Sant’Andrea).
Madonna with Saints and a Donor. Canvas, 356 x 225.
In the heavens, the Virgin stands on a bank of cloud between the kneeling St Joseph (with flowering staff) and St Francis (who is handed a cross by the Christ Child). The saints on the ground are Jerome (with his lion), a kneeling bishop (probably Louis of Toulouse), Anthony of Padua (with lily and book) and Clare (with ciborium). The donor, kneeling in prayer in the bottom right corner, is Uberto Gambara, who was elected cardinal in 1539 and died in 1549. His portrait in the altarpiece has sometimes been ascribed to Moroni working as Moretto’s assistant. The picture was painted, probably around 1540-45, for the friars of Santa Maria degli Angeli at Pralboino. It was transferred to Sant'Andrea after the Franciscan monastery was closed in 1797.
Madonna with SS. Roch and Sebastian. Canvas, 273 x 183.
St Roch is represented in the traditional way, dressed as a pilgrim and displaying the ulcer on his thigh. However, unusually, St Sebastian is not naked but represented in the clothes of a contemporary gentleman. He is identified only by the arrows he holds in his right hand. This fine, classical altarpiece, probably of the late 1520s or early 1530s, was recorded in the church of San Rocco in the seventeenth century. It was possibly transferred to Sant'Andrea in the 1780s, when Sant'Andrea was rebuilt. It hangs over the second altar, left.
Holy Family with St Elizabeth and a Donor. Canvas, 180 x 154.
This altarpiece first came to notice only in 1946, when it was included in the exhibition Pitture in Brescia as a work of Callisto Piazza da Lodi. Roberto Longhi commented (orally) to the exhibition organisers that he thought the picture was by Moretto. His view was rejected at the time; but when the picture was exhibited again in 1965 (at the Mostra di Girolamo Romanino), it was reattributed to Moretto. Fairly early (mid-1520s).
Rodengo-Saiano (12 km northwest of Brescia). Abbey church of San Nicola.
Christ in Glory with St Peter and St Paul. Canvas, 225 x 125.
Christ, seated in heaven on a bank of cloud, hands the keys to St Peter and the Book of Doctrine to St Paul. The inscription on the book ('Bear God's name into the World') is from Acts: 9, 15. This little known altarpiece – with its unequivocal message of Papal authority and doctrinal orthodoxy – probably dates from around 1540. It has been inserted into an eighteenth-century frame (second altar on the left).
The abbey, which has been reoccupied by Olivetan monks since 1969, can be visited only by appointment.
Rome. Vatican Pinacoteca.
‘Madonna of the Pear’. Canvas, 185 x 138.
The Virgin and Child are enthroned on a pedestal between St Bartholomew (holding the knife with which he was flayed) and St Jerome (dressed as a cardinal and holding his Vulgate Bible). The pears on the step of the pedestal symbolise Christ's love for mankind. The original location of this altarpiece is unknown. Formerly owned by Count Costa of Piacenza, it was restored in Milan (by Brisson) in about 1866 and acquired shortly afterwards by Pope Pius IX. Probably a late work of about 1545-50.
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
*Faith. Canvas, 102 x 78.
Faith is symbolised by a beautiful young woman, richly dressed and wearing a transparent veil. She supports a large wooden cross and holds up a Eucharistic chalice. The consecrated Host, hovering above the chalice, glows with Divine light. The ribbon wound around the bunch of flowers is inscribed with a quotation from St Paul: ‘the righteous live in accordance with faith’ (Romans 1: 17; Galatians 3: 11; and Hebrews 10: 38). The picture has been dated as early as around 1530 and as late as 1545-50. In 1635 it was in the Galleria Muselli at Verona; by 1755 it was in the Crozat collection at Paris, which was acquired for the Hermitage by Catherine the Great in 1772.
Portrait of Boy with His Nurse. Canvas, 150 x 105.
The finely dressed young boy takes a handful of cherries from the plainly dressed (and rather ugly) old lady. This curious picture was acquired by Catherine the Great in 1779 with the Walpole collection. At Houghton Hall, it was called 'Titian's son and a nurse'. The attribution to Moretto is conjectural.
Stockholm. University Gallery.
St Jerome in the Desert. Wood, 58 x 36.
Probably a comparatively early work, dating from the early 1520s. There is a somewhat similar, even smaller, picture in the Liechtenstein Museum at Vienna. Acquired in Italy in 1911.
‘Madonna del Carmelo’. Canvas, 271 x 299.
The Virgin, her cloak held up by angels, floats above a group of worshippers, who are presumably members of a family or of a confraternity; prominent at the sides are two Carmelite monks, the Beato Angelo of Jerusalem (right) and St Simon Stock (left). The picture, probably originally a processional banner of the Carmelites, is badly abraded, with the bare canvas showing through in places. It was bought from the Roman Ottoboni family by the sculptor Canova for his chapel (Tempio Canoviano) in his native village of Possagno, near Treviso. After Canova’s death, it was inherited by his brother, the Bishop of Minto, who donated it to the Accademia in 1827 in exchange for two pictures by Palma Giovane. After many years in storage, it has been put back on display only recently.
St John the Baptist; St Peter. Wood, 115 x 51.
These two well-preserved paintings must have been the side panels of an altarpiece. The Baptist wears a camel skin and holds his cross and scroll. His pointing gesture was presumably directed at the Christ Child in the centre panel. St Peter holds a book and the keys to Heaven and Hell. The two panels were among twenty-one paintings acquired by the Austrian authorities for the Accademia in 1856 from the Manfrin collection. Their original location is unknown. Probably comparatively early.
Venice. Santa Maria della Pietà.
*Christ in the House of Simon. Canvas, 303 x 596.
Mary Magdalene, traditionally identified with the 'woman who was a sinner', anoints Christ's feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke: 7, 37-38). Moretto's large canvas anticipates something of the pageantry and splendour of Paolo Veronese’s huge feast scenes. The dwarf, clinging to the pillar on the left with a monkey on his shoulder, is a particularly Veronese-esque detail. Signed and dated 1544 on the base of the pillar. The picture was not painted for a Venetian church but for the refectory of San Giacomo Maggiore at Monselice (some 25 km south of Padua). The convent was closed in 1668. The picture was acquired by the Spedale della Pietà, which brought it to Venice by 1759, hanging it first in the halls of the hospital and then in the nun’s choir of the church. During a major restoration of the church in the 1970s, it was moved to the Museo Diocesano.
Portrait of Girolamo Savonarola(?). Canvas, 74 x 66.
The Latin inscription on the scroll twisted round the martyr's palm reads: 'The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree' (Psalms, 92:12). Moretto’s signature is on the cartellino on the book, which also gives the date January 1524 (previously read as 1519). The subject was first tentatively identified as Savonarola by Da Ponte in 1898. It would be a posthumous portrait (the Dominican friar was hanged and burned for heresy in Florence in 1498). Bequeathed with the collection of Giulio Pompei in 1852.
Madonna and Child with the Infant St John. Canvas, 73 x 72.
A very early work, which may have been in the collection of the eighteenth-century Veronese historian Bartolomeo dal Pozzo.
Verona. San Giorgio in Braida.
*Madonna in Glory and Five Female Saints. Canvas, 288 x 193.
The altarpiece is still in its original location, over an altar on the left side, below the organ. The Virgin is seated on a crescent of cloud, with a glowing mandorla behind her. She appears in the guise of a Madonna della Misericordia, sheltering five virgin martyrs beneath her voluminous mantle, which is held up by cherubim. St Catherine kneels with her spiked wheel; St Lucy holds the skewer with which she was blinded; St Cecilia holds a portable organ and has other musical instruments scattered at her feet; St Agnes sits reading with her lamb; and St Barbara stands behind, leaning on her tower and holding a martyr's palm. St Cecilia is very like the saint in Raphael's famous Ecstasy of St Cecilia at Bologna (which Moretto could have known through Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving). Signed and dated 1540, lower left on St Catherine's wheel. The altarpiece was commissioned by Leone Bugatto, the head abbot of San Giorgio, who was from Brescia. It was Moretto's first commission from the Augustinian canons of San Giorgio in Alga. Moretto was subsequently much employed by Augustinian canons elsewhere (executing refectory paintings for San Giacomo Maggiore in Monselice and for Santi Fermo e Rustico in Lonigo and three works for the church of San Pietro in Oliveto in Brescia).
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
**Saint Giustina and a Donor. Canvas, 200 x 139.
Celebrated by Bernard Berenson as 'one of the heroic creations of Italy', this is probably Moretto's best known and most reproduced painting. The kneeling donor gazes up at a young woman of classical beauty, who is identifiable as St Giustina, patron saint of Padua, by her martyr’s palm and unicorn, symbol of chastity. The virgin martyr, supposedly of royal birth, is sumptuously attired in a crimson satin dress (perhaps an allusion to her martyrdom) and drapery of patterned gold silk. Behind the figures, an expansive landscape with copses and a fortified village stretches over green rolling hills to distant blue-grey mountains. The streaked silvery sky may originally have been more blue. The picture probably dates from about 1530. Once in the Hofburg at Innsbruck, it was transferred in 1662 to the castle of Ambras and subsequently to Vienna. Until 1844, it was ascribed to Pordenone.
Portrait of a Lady. Canvas, 101 x 82.
The style of the young woman’s red dress suggests a date around 1540. Nothing is known of the history of the picture, which is first recorded in the nineteenth century in the storerooms of the Belvedere Palace. It has been ascribed to various Brescian and Venetian painters (including Bonifazio, Beccaruzzi, Savoldo, Lotto, Moroni, and Sebastiano Florigerio), but the attribution to Moretto, first suggested in the 1920s, has probably had most support.
Vienna. Liechtenstein Museum.
Saint Jerome. Wood, 39 x 31.
This tiny panel is probably comparatively early (mid-1520s). Acquired in Venice by Prince Johann II von Liechtenstein in 1869.
Madonna and Child with St Anthony Abbot. Wood, 46 x 58.
The Child holds a pear. Anthony Abbot leans on his Tau-shaped staff, holding the top of his bell between the first two fingers of his left hand. The small devotional panel is probably a mature work of around 1540-45. The reds of St Anthony’s cowl and the Virgin’s dress have faded. Recorded in the Liechtenstein collection since 1805. There is a replica (on canvas) in the museum at Bordeaux.
Madonna and Child with the Infant St John. Wood, 38 x 51.
The Latin inscription in the wreath in the top right corner (‘with these weapons victor, triumph over the earth’) alludes to Christ’s victory over death. This small panel came from the Scarpi collection at Motta di Livenza, where it was originally ascribed to Paris Bordone. It was reattributed to Moretto by Gustavo Frizzoni in 1895, when it was sold to Prince Johann II at Milan. Probably a very late work (around 1550).
Washington. National Gallery.
*Pietà. Wood, 176 x 98.
The scene is placed outside the mouth of the rock-cut tomb. The dead Christ is supported by the Virgin and John the Evangelist, while the Magdalen cradles his legs. Cut down on all sides and then enlarged to its (approximate) original size; but otherwise in good condition. There are no early records of this fine picture, which is probably a comparatively early work of the middle or late 1520s. Formerly in England, in the collections of the Earl of Egremont and Sir Frederick Cook, it was acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1947.
Portrait of a Lady. Canvas, 105 x 88.
This rather damaged portrait (the face is largely repainted) of a lady in a dress of shimmering white satin has also been attributed to Moretto’s assistant Luca Mombello. Once in the Rocca collection at Como, it was acquired by Kress in 1936 from his principal dealer Alessandro Contini Bonacossi.